India gaffer Igor Stimac hails Kuwait clash in WC Qualifiers as "biggest game" of his career, Sunil Chhetri concurs

Sunil Chhetri and Igor Stimac attending a press conference ahead of the Kuwait clash.
Sunil Chhetri and Igor Stimac attending a press conference ahead of the Kuwait clash. (Image Credit: AIFF)

On Thursday, June 6, the Salt Lake Stadium is slated to witness an absurd amalgamation of euphoria and muted despair unfold over 90 momentous minutes.

The Indian men's senior team stands on the brink of history. Poised to clash against Kuwait in the FIFA World Cup 2026 Qualifiers, a victory would open the doors for an unprecedented opportunity to play in the third round of qualifications. But then there's a catch. It also marks the final appearance of long-time talisman and skipper Sunil Chhetri in the Indian colors. Mother of all narratives, one can say.

For head coach Igor Stimac, the humane emotions of Chhetri's departure have been put on hold for now. The focus is squarely on what he considers the "biggest match" of his entire footballing career.

"In the beginning, I didn't want to get my emotions involved in my job, but it's something you cannot stop. So today, I'm proud to say that I feel more Indian than many of the Indians and I will tell you honestly, this is the biggest game altogether - in my playing and coaching careers combined.
"The simple reason is when you have the chance to make one person happy and you do that, then you are a happy man; we have the chance to make 1.5 billion people happy tomorrow and we need to do everything for that," the Croatian asserted during the pre-match press conference.

Meanwhile, the 39-year-old marksman, seated quietly on one end of the dias nodded vehemently in approval. Throughout the press conference, Sunil Chhetri urged the audience to look past his retirement and fathom the opportunity that lay ahead for the country.

Without a second thought, the skipper concurred with the words of Stimac on the importance of the fixture and highlighted how a victory could alter Indian football for good.

"I have worked 19 years for the national team and we did not have this opportunity, this juncture that we have now. I hope this press conference doesn’t reach the boys because I can feel the goosebumps and I want them relaxed for tomorrow. But this is huge because once we win, things will change. It's going to be magical too," the veteran striker underlined.

Impressed with their last performance against Qatar: Igor Stimac on Kuwait and the threat they possess

But the path to the history books is never straightforward, and neither is it for the Blue Tigers. Kuwait will present a formidable challenge, and so they did when the two sides came across in the opening fixture of Group A. India scraped through to a 1-0 victory despite looking defensively resolute.

Igor Stimac isn't ignorant of the threat the opposition possesses:

"It's not only about height, they have great individual quality, which we need to be well aware of. We need to take care of these players which which are there to make a difference with their individual quality. They have lost their best striker but we are without Sandesh [Jhingan], so it's one-one on each side."

As mentioned, Kuwait started their campaign with a narrow defeat to their upcoming opponent. Since then, the Blue Wave has drowned Afghanistan with a 4-0 hammering, before registering a noticeably improved performance against Qatar in a 1-2 defeat.

"They impressed me with their last performance against Qatar, to be honest. They raised the level of their game to a certain standard which might worry me a little bit but watching my boys day-by-day training and committing themself, I'm in peace."

Before the curtains could be brought down on the press conference, a journalist asked a question many have been pondering over the past weeks. If India against Kuwait, will Sunil Chhetri reconsider his retirement decision? A simple "No," was his initial response.

"The suits are made for me to go and watch the boys play. I'm not somebody who just says something that comes into my mind. I might look like that but I think a lot and I've given my thought. I have played for 19 years but this is it. But I don't like the 'If' in your question, so when we win tomorrow, I'll not [reconsider my decision] but I'll go as a fan wherever the team plays," he later added.

Well, for the millions who sit with bated breath, at least it was worth a try to make Chhetri rethink.

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